Note: I was wrong on the date in what follows, but the rest of the post stands and remains relevant for whenever this decision is released.
I was going to wait on this project . . . but, I think it would be foolish to wait.
The project . . .
Sometime in the next 50 days, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will release its decisions on whether 'under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance and 'In God We Trust' on the money and in government buildings violates the First Amendment's prohibition on establishing religion.
I consider 'under God' in the pledge, and the national motto of "In God We Trust" to be the most significant cause of the deteriorating political situation that atheists in specific and secularists in general are facing in the United States, and I want to see these practices ended.
When the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals releases its decision, this will create a political uproar that could have a significant impact on the federal election and several local elections. It will have a significant impact on the electability of atheist candidates (or any candidate who would not pledge allegiance to 'one nation under God') and the status of atheists in America for the foreseeable future.
To get a hint of the type of problems I am talking about, vjack was coincidentally kind enough to post on the topic just this evening. See America the Intolerant: Attitudes towards Atheists Revealing.
If we continue to debate this issue as we have debated it in the past we should only expect the results of those debates to be a continually growing barrier between atheist candidates and public office and positions of public trust, and a growing deterioration of the view of atheists among most Americans.
If you think that being a rationalist should not disqualify a person for a position in public life as an executive, legislator, judge, or appointed leader, then you have reason to reject 'under God' and 'In God We Trust' because, as long as they exist, positions of high public office are not available to rationalist candidates.
I do not think that there is any virtue in being an atheist. I can think of many pairings in which I would choose the religious candidate over the atheist alternative. However, I can also think of many pairings where I would choose the atheist over the religious alternative. Where those pairings might occur in the political process the atheist candidate ought not to be disqualified merely because he is an atheist.
I do not need to believe that there is a particular virtue in being black, or that blacks are inherently superior to whites, to know that a government-endorsed program to keep blacks from public office is a vice, and nothing that a good person could support. I do not even need to be black to have strong and serious objections to any such project.
Similarly, I do not need to believe that there is a particular virtue in being an atheist, or that atheists are inherently superior to theists, to know that a government-endorsed program to keep atheists from public office is a vice, and nothing that a good person could support. I do not even need to be an atheist to have strong and serious objections to such a project.
Let's be honest – these policies were adopted, and they continue to be enthusiastically supported – because they serve as a way of keeping political power out of the hands of any person who will not pledge allegiance to 'one nation under God'. They are loved (by those who love them the most) because they endorse a religious barrier to public office that only allows those who are willing to express a belief in God to pass through.
From the very first day that a child can read the words on the money or on the school room wall that say, "In God We Trust", the government is teaching that child that if she wants to be counted as 'one of us', she will trust in God, and she will not accept any who do not trust in God as one of 'us'.
From the very first day that a child enters public school the child is taught that, at least in the eyes of the government, any person who does not support 'one nation under God' is like a person who does not support 'liberty and justice for all'. These are things that all good Americans support, and those who do not support them are not to be thought of as good Americans.
The reason that those who support these policies the loudest want these lessons taught in the public schools – the reason why they are so emphatic on protecting these policies – is precisely because it helps them to eliminate competition from 'secularists' and 'atheists' for positions of public power and public trust. Through these policies they can keep political power in their own hands. By keeping political power in their own hands they can protect these policies.
Attempting to interpret this as some wild conspiracy theory involving millions of people whispering a secret that is never released to the public would be a mistake.
We find the same type of 'conspiracy' in 'under God' and 'In God We Trust' today that we found in 'separate but equal' in the years between the Civil War and Civil Rights. No sane person could look at the way that blacks were treated before 1960 and say that it followed the constitutional guarantee that blacks be treated as equals. However, a deep-seated prejudice (not a conspiracy) kept the majority who loved their privileged status from admitting what no sane and honest person could deny - that these 'separate' institutions and facilities were not 'equal' (and could never be).
Today, this same type of deep-seated prejudice causes people to ignore what no sane and honest person could deny about 'under God' and 'In God We Trust' – that these, like 'separate but equal', are government-supported policies that aim primarily at promoting hostility towards a group of peaceful and law-abiding citizens based on (in this case) nothing more than their beliefs about God. These policies exist to keep political power in the hands of those who are willing to pledge allegiance to 'one nation under God' by making it nearly impossible for those not willing to make such a pledge from gaining public office.
The mere fact that there are so few atheists in public office (and none who have run for public office while denying that we ever were, are, or will be 'one nation under God' since there is no God) is testimony to the effect of these policies.
An important exchange between Chief Justice Rehnquist and Michael Newdow the last time the Pledge of Allegiance came before the Supreme Court is telling on this matter.
As reported on MSNBC:
Newdow had argued that the words "under God" were divisive and damaging to national unity, by pitting atheist against believers.
"What was the vote in Congress" when it decided in 1954 to add the words "under God" to the pledge, asked Rehnquist.
Newdow replied that it was "apparently unanimous," prompting Rehnquist to question how divisive the pledge really was.
"That's because no atheists can get elected to Congress," Newdow insisted, prompting a sudden round of applause in the audience.
Newdow touched almost accidentally on what is a key concern in this dispute – a matter that the audience recognized instantly and responded to. One way to express that concern is as follows:
If an all-white Congress unanimously passed a pledge of allegiance to 'one white nation', only a bigot would deny that they did this to divide the nation between those who were white and those who were black in an attempt to keep political power in the hands of those who were white.
This Pledge Project is about creating a nation where rationalists can have a chance of winning public office and positions of public trust.
This is about creating a nation where the government is not teaching its citizens from the youngest age that their government looks on people who do not support 'one nation under God' the same way it looks on people who do not support 'liberty and justice for all'.
It is about creating a nation where the government does not put up signs in every government building and child's classroom that state, "Only a person who trusts in God can be one of us. And if you want to be one of us yourself, then you must also trust in God."
After the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals releases its decision, the case will almost certainly go to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court will hear the case late in 2009 or early 2010. This gives us a year and a half to make the case that 'under God' is not about mentioning God in the public square. It is about keeping atheists out of public office.
In fact, any campaign to give atheists a chance to win public office must begin with defeating these practices. There can be no (honest) atheist in high public office against the backdrop of a nation whose government teaches children from the youngest age to pledge allegiance to 'one nation under God' and where political advertisements adorn every public office that say, "Only one who trusts in God can be one of us."
Do you think that rational candidates who base conclusions on the evidence and who understand and can apply the rules of logic should have a chance to honestly win public office?
This issue is where that campaign begins.